Online courses offer students accessibility and flexibility


First Posted: 11/29/2009

For the past decade online learning has been growing substantially faster than overall higher education enrollments. Educational institutions around the world are realizing that improving student access to online courses and programs is essential in remaining competitive in the education market.
Findings from a study by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on distance learning reveal that two-year institutions have the highest growth rates and account for more than half of all online enrollments for the last five years.
Robeson Community College first went online in 2000 with three courses. The colleges online classes have increased during the past five years, but have shown a significant increase from 2008 to 2009 with 58 percent more students enrolled.
RCCs Distance Learning Coordinator Melissa Oxendine is pleased with the colleges commitment to provide students more flexibility in taking college courses.
To meet the demand of increasing student requests for course offerings, in May 2008 RCC requested approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and School to increase the online course offerings for many of our programs. This approval allowed us to increase the number of courses offered to better meet the demand of our students who are looking for an opportunity to earn a college degree while juggling the responsibility of their jobs and families, Oxendine said.
Research suggests that online education will continue to grow across all sectors of higher education. Rising fuel prices and steeper tuition costs at four-year schools are pushing the demand for online classes. The Sloan report shows that community colleges are using online courses to increase degree completion rates and better serve the needs of non-traditional students, many of whom are interested in degree attainment, and in professional or personal growth.
Last week Gov. Bev Perdue announced the launch of eLearningNC.gov. This initiative Web site will provide an easy one-stop shop for any North Carolina student, from kindergarten to 12th-grade students to lifelong learners, who want to take advantage of online learning such as the NC Virtual Public School, online courses from community colleges or universities, and online career banding. Additional information can be found at www.elearningnc.gov.
RCC is excited to participate in eLearningNC.gov, offering 63 online and hybrid courses during the 2010 spring semester. eLearning courses provide 24/7 eLearning opportunities for North Carolina residents, anytime, anywhere, Oxendine adds.
The Sloan Foundations study on distance education also reveals that institutions cite improved student access as their top reason for offering online courses and programs. Institutions most engaged in distance education cite increasing the rate of degree completion as a very important objective.
In addition to being more accessible, online education is also more flexible than traditional education, especially for students who work. Results from a recent RCC student survey indicate that students enjoy the flexibility and convenience provided to them in the online environment.
Students participating in a spring 2009 online survey report that online learning gives them the ease of taking classes at home, convenience and flexibility, and the ability to take their time and not feel under a lot of pressure. Results of the survey also show 94 percent of RCCs students surveyed are satisfied with the instruction they have received in their online courses.
RCC has maintained a retention rate in its online classes through the last four semester of 76 to 79 percent.
This number is due to the outstanding faculty, both full-time and part-time who take on the enormous responsibility of transforming a traditional curriculum course into a nontraditional online course that is both engaging and interactive, Oxendine said.
The college is presently discussing the possibility of offering two degrees fully online to begin in the fall of 2010. Programs under consideration are the early childhood associate and criminal justice technology degree programs.
To learn more about RCCs distance education courses, visit www.robeson.edu.
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Lisa O. Hunt is the Public Information officer at Robeson Community College and the project coordinator for the Robeson Regional Biotech Education

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